For Duke's Gridley, US Swim Trials are a family affair ::

For Duke’s Gridley, US Swim Trials are a family affair ::

John Gridley carries a pair of swim goggles in his bag to every meet he attends. He is not a swimmer, but they are an extra pair for his daughter, Kaelyn Gridley, a competitor at the US Swim Trials in Indianapolis, just in case she ever needs them.

“As a parent, you’re always trying to find something to do for your child, and she’s always telling me no,” he said. “She’s in charge, and I’m just like everyone else. I’m a spectator.”

Duke University’s Kaelyn Gridley competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke at this year’s US Swim Trials, her second time making it to the Olympic qualifier. She is well equipped to do it on her own, but benefits from that family support.

The Gridley family feels most at home in the water. Twins Patrick and Ryan Gridley compete on the Northwestern University swim team; Brendan Gridley, the eldest, now serves in the Navy.

Without her brothers, Kaelyn Gridley would have quit the sport of swimming. In fact, in second grade that is exactly what she did. But after being dragged to her older brothers’ swim meets for years, she decided that she wanted a second chance at the sport.

At age 11, Kaelyn Gridley competed in the Illinois state meet. She finished last. The next year, she earned first place.

“Over the course of her career, she’s constantly been catching people,” her dad said.

As the youngest – Kaelyn has three brothers – she always tried to keep up with her siblings.

“I was always the Gridley’s little sister, the baby Gridley, and so I kind of grew into that name when I was on the club team,” the swimmer said. “It was interesting coming to college (at Duke) and becoming less of the Gridley’s little sister to more of ‘Oh, it’s Kaelyn,’ and so that’s been a shift in reidentifying myself.”

Fueled by her growing independence, Kaelyn Gridley has gone on to great success, highlighted by her appearance at this year’s swim trials.

When asked about her experience in Indianapolis, she said, “The energy is absolutely electric here. The fans cheering and just looking up and not being able to see anyone in the crowd directly is an insane feeling.”

While their daughter may not be able to pick them out in the crowd of 20,000-plus, Kaelyn Gridley’s parents sit proudly in the stands cheering her on the entire time. And it is not just the Gridley family that has been supporting her.

John Gridley’s inbox has been flooded with emails wishing his daughter luck. He is receiving texts from friends he hasn’t spoken to in years. His wife’s closest friend from college flew in from Boston to cheer his daughter on in person.

“It’s meant the world to me,” Kaelyn Gridley says of her support network. “Coming here and competing just shows you how many people are really out there rooting for you. I’m not super famous, but having people say ‘Oh my god, Kaelyn I swim on your club team’ – that means the world to me. Riley, this one girl from my old club team, sent me a picture of me with her at the 2021 trials. We got another picture at the 2024 trials, and that was just inspirational. Knowing that people actually do care and people pay attention. I’m just so grateful for everyone.”

Family, friends and fellow Duke Blue Devils provide unwavering support for Kaelyn Gridley’s swimming journey.

She is a babysitter, a dedicated friend, a fierce competitor in the pool, the younger sister who always got pranked by her older brothers, a mechanical engineering student and an independent but loving daughter. Of course, she’s also one of the best swimmers in the country.

Though this moment belongs to Kaelyn Gridley, her family can’t help but feel pride in her journey.

“Obviously, there is a sense of pride,” John Gridley said. “This will never happen again. No matter what she does in her life. Unless she becomes a movie actress, she’ll never have 22,000 people looking at her in an event.”

For the Gridley family, the 2024 USA Swimming Trials are without a doubt a family affair.